YEREVAN. – An exclusive interview of the Defense Minister of Artsakh, the commander of the Defense Army, Lieutenant-General Levon Mnatsakanyan to the Armenian News -

A regular monitoring of the OSCE took place at the line of contact between the Armed Forces of Artsakh and Azerbaijan. The monitoring itself passed without incident, but soon after it was over, a soldier of Artsakh was killed by a shot from the Azerbaijani side. How do you generally assess the situation at the line of contact?

It can be described as a situation of neither war, nor peace, nor stability, nor tension. This was the situation in 2017, and it also continues at present. Indeed, the OSCE monitoring took place, and, as we know, the region was visited by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs. During the monitoring, violations were not recorded. But as soon as the OSCE representatives left the contact line, the adversary started shooting. This, by the way, is the usual behavior of the Azerbaijani side, and I repeatedly reported such facts to the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk. The adversary has been recently using small arms more, but in the past there have been cases of mortars and guns. There were cases when the ambassador was still on his way from the line of contact when violations occurred. The enemy’s behavior indicates that statements about the readiness to observe the ceasefire regime are being made exclusively to distract attention. They say that they are ready to observe the regime, but the reality is different. The last incident is an additional confirmation of this.

It has been much spoken about the increasing Kasprzyk’s team and the introduction of mechanisms for investigating the incidents. If there is an obvious opposition from Azerbaijan in regards of the second issue, it seems, there is progress on the first. Do you think expanding of the Kasprzyk’s team will yield effective results?

Of course, to some extent, there is a need to expand the team of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office. The more field assistants, the more opportunities for observation and control. However, the matter is not about the numbers or the composition of the team, but rather Baku’s manifestation of the will to create an atmosphere of trust. Is this really what they want? If they want it, they need to show the will and agree to increase the team. From our side, there is always a will to create an atmosphere of trust, to reduce tension. From the Azerbaijani side, work is also under way to introduce a video surveillance system. Not on such a scale as on our side, but that's enough. During the visit of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs to Stepanakert, we presented the possibilities of our video surveillance system and information that identifies the real violator. We have always expressed our willingness to promote the implementation of incident investigation mechanisms. As a Defense Minister of Artsakh and the commander of the Defense Army, I stated this from the first meeting with the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Ambassador Kasprzyk, and I remain true to my opinion. Mr. Ambassador agrees that mechanisms need to be introduced. Time will show to what extent it will be possible.

The Armenian side has repeatedly expressed the opinion on the benefits of direct contacts between local commanders to prevent the escalation of the situation in the event of an incident. What do you think of it?

We are ready for this. But practice shows that the enemy is not ready. It is not uncommon for the Azerbaijani side not to lead the group to a previously agreed place during the OSCE monitoring and the reasons are made up. This will be confirmed by the observers. There were cases of violations during monitoring, even the sad fact of wounding a serviceman from our side. That is, from the Azerbaijani side, the violations are of a permanent nature, and the guarantees that are given at the time of monitoring are also not a deterrent.

From the Azerbaijani side, there are regular statements about purchase of heavy weapons. How true are these reports?

I have already expressed my opinion on the matter. Indeed, Azerbaijan spends huge money on the purchase of weapons. It is possible that some of this money is written off, appearing in the pockets of officials. However, in practice, the situation is different from what Baku is trying to show. In the northern direction we have recently had an opportunity to observe such an example of “modern weapons”, and showed it in the media. A usual amateur drone, and this is not the first such case. Azerbaijan buys weapons, but not in the amount that it tries to present.

What conclusions were made after the April aggression of 2016?

Naturally, after each incident, a thorough analysis is conducted. This was done after April 2016. All the events and actions were analyzed, all conclusions were drawn, and colossal work was carried out on their results. The emphasis is on the equipment of the leading edge, improving the conditions for combat duty, increasing the security of employees at the forefront, increasing combat and logistics support, improving management efficiency, improving the CCTV system. That is, the work was conducted in all directions. And this work continues. You can say, do not compare what was, and what is. But we were not satisfied with what has been achieved, we do not believe that this is enough, and the work continues.

Russian weapons sale to Azerbaijan is matter of concern.  What is your opinion on the matter?

Baku’s aspiration to use all possible channels for the purchase of weapons is natural. And it is also clear that Azerbaijan cannot replace weapons purchased in Russia by supplies from other countries, for example, Turkey. In the first case, there remains some control over the equipment and quantity, as well as levers of influence, if necessary. For our part, we purchase all the armaments we need. As for statements about the lack of balance, let’s remember the balance was violated prior to 1992, but the matter is whether this gave the Azerbaijani side an advantage and what was the result. In 1992, we performed our task brilliantly. And the ceasefire regime is still preserved for a reason, thanks to the strength of the weapon. I am confident that the Armed Forces, in spite of the various purchases on the side of Baku, will honorably fulfill their tasks.

One of the elements of the struggle is propaganda. It's no secret that Azerbaijan spends enormous money for these purposes. What about the Karabakh side?

Propaganda really matters. But we must remember that there are two directions: real propaganda and disinformation. These are different things. Azerbaijan spends a lot of money on spreading disinformation, and everyone understands this. There are certain figures, including foreigners, who are trying to support Baku. But I would not even call these people supporters or friends of Azerbaijan. For them such behavior is business, which brings them benefit. On our side, propaganda is something that is based on facts and history, and both domestic and foreign historical sources are used. The Armenian side is working based on the evidences. So the methods of propaganda are incomparable.

The other day the President of Azerbaijan made another aggressive statement, promising “to return Yerevan”. How would you comment on this?

They used to say they want to drink tea in Shushi and raise the flag over Stepanakert. Prior to the April events (2016 – Ed.) they made ambitious statements and conducted surveys. Such statements are targeted at  the internal audience. The elections will be held in Azerbaijan. Why to change the election date, if the Aliyev’s regime has power and the situation is calm?

Unfortunately, there are still incidents in the army not related to the actions of the enemy. What is your assessment of the situation?

The analysis of the situation shows that from the year 2015 there has been a decrease in the number of fatalities. Some growth is recorded in the number of incidents associated with military hazing. Of course, any number is worrying, but the objective reality is that the number of fatal incidents has been declining in recent years. As for military hazing, we are implementing awareness-raising activities.

Karabakh is the birthplace of numerous famous military commanders. What about the training of personnel?

The alma mater of our officers is the Vazgen Sargsyan Military Institute. Our officers are also trained in some foreign military universities. “I Have the Honor” program is underway. There are those who want to participate in the program, and after completing their studies at the university they will start serving in the Armed Forces. That is, the officers get education not in the military institutions only.

Photo by Arsen Sargsyan/